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Buck Hill: Relax

Dan McClenaghan By

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Buck Hill: Relax Relax has an old-school feeling, like a Blue Note album from the sixties. It's a straight-ahead sound, with Buck Hill's brawny, relaxed tenor saxophone in the embrace of a fine organ trio. I compare it to an "album" in part because there's a two-sided feeling to the eight songs.

"Side one" opens with a with the Hill-penned "RH Blues," a fresh-sounding up-tempo romp featuring a fluidly stinging guitar solo by Paul Pieper, followed by John Ozment's rippling Hammond work and some truly exquisite blowing from Hill. "Relax," another original, tells you that Buck Hill doesn't waste a single note. There's no flash to his style, no wailing histrionics—this is just first-rate jazz, from a master who has spent sixty years honing his craft. The first four tunes of this "side" are rounded out by the Amercian Songbook tune "Old Folks" and another Hill tune, "Little Bossa," for a top-notch opening salvo.

"Side two" is where Hill takes us from an excellent jazz outing into the realm of classic listening experience. The first three tunes here could be called the "Miles Davis Suite": "Flamenco Sketches," "Prancing" [sic] and "Milestones." The lushly orchestrated Davis/Gil Evans collaboration Sketches of Spain (Columbia, 1959) produced the original "Flamenco Sketches." Buck Hill and his backing trio distill the tune down to its elemental beauty, opening with a shimmer on Paul Pieper's guitar before swirling into some of the most cohesive group interplay I've heard in a good long while. It combines reverence with soul-searching honesty—a masterpiece! "Francing" and "Milestone" get similar treaments.

When you listen to current jazz artists, you'll find an amazing amount of talent out there, but it's rare to find a disc that can stand with the classics of yesteryear, including sets by the likes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon and Joe Henderson. Relax, Buck Hill's first album as a leader in fifteen years, is such a disc.

Welcome back to the recording studio, Mr. Hill. You've created a classic.

Track Listing: RH Blues; Old Folks; Little Bossa; Flamenco Sketches; Prancing; Milestones; Sad Ones.

Personnel: Buck Hill: tenor saxophone; John Ozment: Hammond A100; Paul Pieper: guitar; Jerry Jones: drums.

Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Severn Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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